Midwestern Mama is convinced that the signs of drug and alcohol use are right before us. You can see it, smell it, feel it, taste it and hear it. Let the “Mom (or Dad) Radar” guide you in identifying use before it gets out of hand.
It was April 2010 that we first confirmed our son’s drug use. He was a senior in high school and we had suspected drug use but he denied it and we hadn’t found actual evidence. He later confirmed he started with marijuana in summer 2009.
For a full year prior, his behavior and attitude started to change and although we addressed these head on with a visit to the doctor to rule out anything physical followed by family counseling and individual sessions to identify the emotional and mental needs. He always flat-out denied drug use, and stupid as it sounds, we didn’t know how to drug test him.
We later learned that you can get inexpensive marijuana and other drug tests at places like Wal-greens; while not the most thorough, these can be a starting place. There are also a variety of other places to purchase Urine Analysis drug tests. We thought you had to go to a hospital or doctor’s office – we just didn’t know and it was nearly impossible to find answers even among professionals or online. Crazy, I know. Live and learn.)
Some of our observations included changes in sleep patterns, changes in friends, lying, poor attitude toward family activities, not turning in homework, skipping class, and more. Our first thought was some kind of depression and because bi-polar runs in the family, it was a natural concern. However, it was more than mood, it was agitated, angst and other exhibits that really concerned us and gave us reason to suspect drugs.
The timing of our realizations is key here. April. Spring. Spring fever. Kids being kids? Right of passage? NO WAY. Yet, kids get tired of school and sports routines. They feel their oats, as it were. It’s spring break, it’s prom season, it’s graduation coming soon, it’s all kinds of feelings and situations where we trust them because we’ve had all the right conversations, and yet, they make choices that sometimes lead places they never imaging – like experimentation, recreational use, substance abuse, addiction, consequence, and worse.
So what’s a parent to do? I’m big on trust and communication. However, because of our experience with our son, I’m also big on the five senses.
- Eyes: Keep an eye out. Become an observer. Take notes. Watch for patterns and changes. Open your eyes to the possibilities – even the unthinkable ones. Drug and alcohol use is often right in front of us, yet we miss it.
- Ears: Listen. You know the expression, God gave us two ears and one mouth. Resist the urge to lecture, yell, tell, etc., even though it’s OK and important for our kids to know how strongly we feel about the negative impact of drug and alcohol use among young adults. Listen in your conversations – hear their tone and think about its meaning (intended or just teenage-ease). Without being an overt eavesdropper, pay attention to their interactions with other people – on the phone, in person, etc. Are they talking in code?
- Mouth: Above, I addressed talking, so here I want to talk about taste. No, not actual tasting – that could be nasty and dangerous! However, there’s taste as in does this interaction, observation, etc. leave a bad taste in my mouth? There’s also a sense of is their action, behavior and communication in good taste? For example, my son stopped wanting to receive gifts from family members – even Grandma! – and definitively didn’t believe he should have to say thank you for gifts he didn’t ask for or want. Whoa! This was not the polite son we had known. This was a bitter, negative person and it left a really bad taste in our mouths.
- Touch: Sometimes there’s a point when our kids don’t want to be touched, even hugged. I get that and as they mature, they become loving again. But let’s think about touch – if they recoil, they may be hiding something. Also, you never know what you might feel. I would feel my son’s jacket and backpack – sort of like a pat down at the airport – and from there, I started to find all kinds of things: lighters, matches, Visine, hollow tubes used to snort, empty baggies with oregano-looking flecks (marijuana), and more. One day, his backpack was particularly heavy and I gave it a gentle kick with my foot. Ouch! There was something large and hard inside – an expensive, gigantic glass bong.
- Nose: That same backpack smelled horrible. There was a wet towel drenched with filthy bong water. Yuck. Also pay attention to smells to mask drug use – body spray to cover up smoking and other chemical smells that are related to drugs; strong mints to cover up alcohol use or smoking; Febreze or Lysol sprayed in the car. The smell of marijuana itself. And more.
There are so many clues that may indicate drug and alcohol use, and as parents we have to rely on our five senses and our gut – what I fondly refer to as Mom (or Dad) Radar. Without a doubt, we know what is going on and we must address it before it’s too late.